An Interview with Ray Bradbury

At Least You Can Say, You Dug!

The following is an interview with the great writer Ray Bradbury. This excerpt is from Marilee Zdenek’s book The Right Brain Experience.

Zdenek: It may be devastating to people to start wishing they had done things differently or try to fix something when it’s old history. But to love the child that was and to let him be with his mistakes and all well, that seems mighty fine to me.

Bradbury: You must never compare yourself with your child or with any of the other writers around you. It is very damaging to your creative spirit. You can’t be anyone else. You’ll make your own little island and people will swim to it sooner or later. You may not have a big audience but just a few people will come ashore and say, Well done, eh? God, that’s gorgeous, just gorgeous.

Zdenek: But the freedom to be yourself has to come from the freedom to accept yourself as you are in the strengths and weaknesses.

Bradbury: Well, I learned early on just how wrong the world could be when it judged my loves. I can’t judge your loves. If you are going off to the Himalayas to write poetry, then do it. I’m never going to do it, I’m scared of heights! But bravo, eh? When I was nine I collected Buck Rogers and people made fun and I tore them up. A month later I burst into tears and I said to myself what’s wrong and the answer was Buck Rogers was gone forever and I was dying on my feet at the age of nine. So I don’t know what kind of a process I went through just an emotional purge when I said, Hell, I’m going back and collect Buck Roger again. And live again. And, I’m not going to listen to people anymore. So, from the age of nine I never listened. I stopped listening to people and their taste. They were always wrong for me. Right for themselves. But, I just went ahead and collected Buck Rogers.

Zdenek: Do you still have them?

Bradbury: I have them all! And Tarzan and Prince Valiant and my love of dinosaurs and because of my love of dinosaurs when I was five, when I was twelve, when I was nineteen, when I was thirty, I got the job of writing Moby Dick for the screen. Because that’s a great prehistoric beast there. And my love shown through my short stories. John Huston read one of my stories about a dinosaur in love with a lighthouse, and that’s how I got the job of writing Moby Dick. He recognized the ghost of Melville, even though I’d never read Melville, the ghost that came out of my work there the ghost of the Bible, the ghost of Mr. Shakespeare that haunted my bones since I read the Bible and Shakespeare and fell in love with the poetry.

So it’s just living day to day, one after another and just trusting all your passions that later accumulate on eighteen different levels. A good example is someone like the archeologist Schliemann. Homer spoke to him in his sleep and in his waking hours. And Homer said to Schliemann when he was a boy of ten, eleven or twelve or so: Troy exists. It really exists, even though everyone else says it doesn’t exist. Don’t listen to them! And Schliemann, wise intuitive boy said, I believe blind Homer, I’m not going to listen to you guys. Someday I’m going to get a spade and I’m gonna dig and I’m gonna find Troy. I’ll be the one who discovers Troy three thousand years later. And all you dummies get out of the way. And he went when he was fifty-five or sixty, I think, with his wife, and he dug a few miles north of where Homer said to dig and, by God, not only was Troy there, but nine levels of the city of Troy. Nine different kinds of Troy. And when he left, thirty more Troys were discovered. Not only were the doubters wrong, they were wrong thirty-nine times! So there’s your metaphor for creativity. There’s a Troy in you that needs to be dug up. Don’t listen to anyone. Go do it. And if you don’t find anything there, at least you could say you dug.

Zdenek: And there’s a great joy in doing of it.

Bradbury: Damned right!

Zdenek: Do you keep any transitional objects around when you work, any particular things from your childhood that stir special memories?

Bradbury: Oh yeah. In the basement at home I’m surrounded by books and toys and paintings and maps from the age of three on up. And then in my office the Smithsonian people stuck their heads in my office four years ago, looked around and said, You’re hired. And I said, Why? And they said, It looks like our basement. So I’ve got all this junk and I have to tread a path through it. You see, I’d figured I didn’t ever want to have an office, I wanted a nest. And, its got to be packed ‘round with images of all the things I’ve loved, so I’m totally comfortable in there. A giant love nest. I always promise to clean it up someday, but it hasn’t been cleaned in years because I’ve got things on the floor everywhere.

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